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Jillian Rastinejad awarded Northwestern Presidential Fellowship

The Graduate School (TGS) of Northwestern University announced that Jillian Rastinejad was one of only seven people awarded the Presidential Fellowship for 2024. Funded by the President of the University and awarded by TGS, this award is Northwestern’s most prestigious fellowship. The Presidential Fellowship celebrates students who promise to combine outstanding intellectual or creative ability with the capacity to play an important leadership role, and includes stipend, tuition, research, and travel funds.

“It is an honor to win the Presidential Fellowship, and I look forward to making connections with the other Fellows” says Rastinejad. “This process has reinforced to me that my non-traditional background as a Chinese-Iranian-American woman who pursued law for the majority of her undergrad, which I viewed as a negative early on, has been an asset to me in building communication skills and unique perspectives on astronomy. I am extraordinarily grateful to the family, friends, colleagues and mentors who supported me in the application process and throughout my graduate work.”

Jillian leverages world-class telescopes to study astronomical explosions that create heavy elements, including iodine, silver, and gold. Despite their prevalence in our day-to-day lives, these heavy elements did not exist at the Universe’s birth, and their astronomical birthplaces are still not well understood. Jillian’s research has challenged long-standing paradigms of where the heavy elements are born and found that the signatures of heavy elements are more diverse than previously expected. She leads observing programs on premiere telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the twin Gemini Observatories in Chile and Hawai’i, using them to rapidly respond to alerts from NASA satellites pointing to the location of a new explosion. Jillian is also an active member of the Searches After Gravitational-waves Using ARizona Observatories (SAGUARO) collaboration, which looks for the counterpart explosions to gravitational wave events, minuscule ripples in space-time that are only recently being discovered by detectors on Earth.  

Jillian obtained a BA in Physics and Human Rights from the University of Connecticut and was previously a Northwestern Data Science Fellow. She is passionate about astronomy outreach, having created and led a Data Science for the Public Good conference, contributed to astronomy high school mentoring programs, and worked with journalists to bring astronomy news to the public. 

Jillian Rastinejad is an astronomy PhD candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences and a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Exploration in Astrophysics (CIERA). She is advised by Wen-fai Fong. 

Congratulations, Jillian!

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